zondag, november 21, 2004

What if I supported the war?

Let's pretend that I'm in favour of the war. Let's pretend that I'm one of those chickenhawk pro-war liberals and that I like watching World War II movies because things were so much simpler then, when everybody knew who were the fascists and our side was lily white, and everybody on the left, from Papa Joe to the Spanish republican refugees that Papa Joe hadn't managed to slaughter, signed up to the Allied cause and Allied armies unblinkingly, much like Dan Rather and Bruce Willis tried to do after the eleventh of September.

(Specifically here, I'm referring to a throwaway signing off in a comment by the mysterious SIAW to this post at Daily Moiders [DM has an odd commenting system, and I'm having trouble finding the permalink. It's the tenth comment down]: 'Must rush - Foyle's War is on and it's good to be reminded of a time when no sane person would have doubted the necessity of fighting fascism', but the eight pro-war lefties that exist in this world [Hitch, Hari, Harry(of the Place), Berman, Gitlin, Geras, Cohen and Kamm] -- tend to repeat the trope endlessly, aiming to persuade others of the current left's perfidy in allegedly siding with fascism's supposed latter-day incarnation, Islam[ism])

But no, no, let's pretend I do. Let's pretend that, surtout, it was vital that a) Saddam's regime was so unspeakably vile that the left side with our sworn domestic enemy, the rapacious capitalist imperialists, for the sake of his overthrow, and b) liberal democracy is under threat from a new, Islam-inflected form of fascism, and so, given the choice between bourgeois liberal democracy and fascism, it is no question where the socialist stands.

Furthermore, let's not use the pantomime of me being a chickenhawk as a method of cheap attack on the pro-war left, but let's use the pretence to honestly investigate whether there is even the remotest possibility that there could be a smidgen of a scintilla of speck of a gleaning of a hiccough of a chance that there could be a progressive defence of the war, or, rather, whether signing up for this war entails abandoning all other long-held left-wing positions.

First of all, even the most intransigent 'Stopper', as they call us, should be able to admit, or at least have the historical awareness to concede, that bourgeois liberal democracy is progressive in comparison to its predecessor, feudalism, and its demagogic logical conclusion, fascism. Between parliamentary democracy and autocracy, there is no choice. To the barricades, then, comrades, in defence of England, Nike, and Halliburton -- if the choice is between that and Mussolini.

I jest not.

Those who daily expose the hypocrisy, inadequacy and vampirism of capitalism will be first to sign up for its ruthless, militant defence when it is under threat from fascism (which it is not, currently, but, as previously suggested, let's pretend that it is for the sake of argument…).

Secondly, quickly, I think it is fair to admit, although I concede here others on the left may disagree, that there does come a magnitude to certain extraordinarily exceptional crimes that are simply so profoundly hellish, that even the certain opportunism and accompanying disaster of imperialist intervention must be accepted for the sake of minimising such crimes.

The classic, perhaps sole, example of this would be to have supported the bombing of railroads in Germany --which would certainly have killed many civilians -- in order to prevent the shipment of Jews and others to Nazi death camps (which, by the way, and in case you didn't know, the Allies never did, even though they were well aware of what was happening to the occupants of those trains as early as 1942).

So there are indeed occasions wherein the socialist must come to the defence of imperialist intervention. I'll not go into whether the current situation meets the conditions of a) and b) -- I'm not interested in that at the moment, and I humbly suggest, though others have done the job far better than I, that I have proved the contrary earlier in any case.

No, I am interested in the rest of what else one must say if a) and b) were in fact true.

If they were, and I supported the war, as I indeed would have done in 1939, then while I did so, I would also maintain that the capitalists remain capitalists and continue to oppose them in all other aspects.

I would say, yes to this war, but the US still needs to pull its bases out of the Middle East and indeed the rest of its 725 bases (according to former CIA analyst Chalmers Johnson) around the world.

I would say, yes to this war, but the US needs to stop backing Israel's occupation of Palestine.

I would say, yes to this war, but Bush is a Christian fundamentalist theocrat whose party wants to overturn the tattered remains of not just a woman's right to choose but any women's rights period in the US and beyond, and large sections of which believe that the Grand Canyon was made in seven days, that evolution is just a theory, that Israel needs to be supported because its existence is a sign of Jesus' imminent return and the Rapture, when the chosen will ascend to heaven naked leaving behind their underwear, in-soles, dentures and Garfield sweatshirts.

I would say yes to this war, but hands off Venezuela, bub.

I would say yes to this war, but no to the Patriot Act.

I would say yes to this war, but no to the international trade agreements and institutions that are little more than shake-down operations in more expensive suits.

And so on.

And yet the lot of the pro-war 'left' crowd is contemptuous not just of the anti-war movement, but the entirety of the left. Nick Cohen's now much-blogosphere-contemplated obituary for the left neglects completely the rest of what the left has been up to these last five years and beyond in terms of countering corporate-led globalization -- which, from Seattle to Genoa -- is the biggest movement the left has seen since 1968, not to mention the youth, women and immigrants in the US and Canada, say, who are rebuilding the trade union movement from the ground up, the successes of the environmental movement and today's intellectual hegemony of the culture of human rights (if not their implementation). Cohen, for someone supposedly so committed to fighting privatisation, has announced the demise of the left, when who exactly has been in the streets -- from Kidderminster to Johannesburg, from Berlin to La Paz -- fighting exactly that?

Christopher Hitchens repeatedly says, when confronted with the rest of Bush's agenda, that he is a 'single-issue voter' -- as if any socialist has ever been anything of the sort. The privatisation of social security, the expansion of the American security state, the ascendancy of the religious right in the U.S. heartlands and its infection of virtually every aspect of American public life, the repeal of the minimal environmental and labour legislation that exists in the U.S., the prospect of an outright ban on abortion and the fact that the confidence of the religious right is such that they even have birth control in their sights, and on and on -- do none of these developments concern Hitchens at all?

During the second world war, thousands of leftists signed up to their respective Allied armed forces, but, outside the opportunist Communist parties and national chauvinist social democratic parties, which had shown their true colours at the outbreak of the previous war, most argued that while they had joined up, the liberal democracies were only at war with Germany and Italy due to threats to their own empires and had no genuine interest in defeating fascism. (Manifestly this was so in Italy in 1943, where the Allies very quickly came to an understanding with the fascists, lest the Communist-dominated partisans emerge victorious. Rather thousands of resistance fighters be slaughtered than have socialism advance from the 'soft underbelly' of Europe.) Ultimately, Germany was defeated, but fascism was left to ripen in Spain, Portugal, and Greece (and even in Italy in a more hidden way -- which still has yet to resolve itself. Where in Germany neo-Nazi groups have no direct lineage to the National Socialist German Workers' Party, and are, on the whole, fringe movements, in Italy, there was no break between the Fascists of Mussolini and Berlusconi's government coalition partners in the Allianza Nazionale and the Northern League. Walking about in Rome in the summer of 2001, I was shocked to find the news agents' stalls around the city hawking not just international newspapers and copies of 'Sixty and Sexy', but souvenir Mussolini calendars as well). We had to wait a generation for fascism in southern Europe to be defeated, at the hands of the people, with no aid at all from any American or European government, all of which had long since come to an accommodation with Salazar, Franco and the Greek colonels. To say that fascism in Europe was defeated by the Allies ignores that fascism in southern Europe was allowed to continue well into the seventies and, furthermore, ignores the role that popular movements played in the war.

Rather, socialists in the Second World War argued that what was needed was a popular (people's) revolutionary war against fascism. Liberal democratic imperialists cannot be trusted to defeat fascism (or in the, current, Iraqi case, Ba'athist dictatorship [and let's not waste time debating at this point the 'fascist minimum' - I do not subscribe to the view that any old nasty mo'fo' is a fascist. If you are interested in the important distinction, others, notably Dave Renton, have investigated this subject at great length elsewhere]). As soon as their immediate, imperial aims have been satisfied, the war comes to an end. If democracy is a result of this, so much the better, as far as they are concerned, but if fascist -- but sufficiently subservient -- regimes remain, well, they can live with that.

Thus this is my question: Where are the pro-war leftists who can recognise that the overthrow of Ba'athist dictatorship and the installation of democracy was never the intention of Bush and Blair, but merely, hopefully, the cheerful byproduct of an imperial oil-seeking adventure? I do not really believe this, but if I were pro-war, this is the pro-war leftist I would have to be.

As it happens, I am anti-war, because the predictable deaths of 100,000+ civilians is not worth the price of Saddam's overthrow and because I believe in almost all cases, democracy comes from the people - as it did in the Philipines, Indonesia and East Timor, Yugoslavia and the democratic movements of Eastern Europe and Latin America - and not from imperialist tanks and bombs.

Perhaps the only example where the analogy seems to holds true for the pro-war left is Japan, but then, at such a cost, and, in any case -- outside the popular imagination -- most mainstream historians recognise that where in Europe the motivations often seemed to have been noble, the war in the Pacific was an undisguised battle between the Japanese and American empires. If one was particularly savage to those under its occupation, the other extinguished a quarter of a million lives for the sake of a live demonstration to Moscow of the power of its new atomic bomb.

And the liberal democracy that flourished in the country following Japan's surrender has everything to do with both the powerful post-war Japanese left and the swarm of liberals and socialists in the State Department inspired by the New Deal who orchestrated what was surely initially the most benevolent occupation in history, and little to do with US democratic ideals. In any case, many of the democratic freedoms that were instituted in the immediate post-war period, including some of the most liberal trade union laws in the world at the time, by the early fifties were heavily curtailed in the interest of domestic and international Cold War priorities. The State Department idealists were fired and there was a violent crackdown on trade unions and other popular organisations. The pacifist, liberal post-war Japan was replaced by a corporatist and de facto one-party state which has lived on to the present day. Although constitutionally superficially committed to pacifism, Japan was quickly remilitarized in this period in the guise of the country's Self Defence Forces, and today is the world's fourth largest military spender, and its Maritime Self Defence Force, which in reality is the country's navy, is the fourth biggest navy in the world, after the US, the UK and Russia.

The point here is that even if one accepts the pro-war argument as a leftist, it is still requisite that one maintain all one's other critiques of western governments and elites -- something I have yet to see.

Thus, as nearly all other common leftist precepts have been abandoned by the pro-war leftie crowd in the rush to embrace this war, can we really continue to call them men (and they are almost all men [and I only say almost because though I cannot think of any pro-war left-wing women, there must be some out there somewhere. But maybe not, and, if so, this is one more thing they have up on those of us with dangly bits between our legs]) of the left at all?

The pro-war 'left', with few exceptions, are not only pro-war and naïvely trusting of Bush and Blair's stated goals of democracy in the Middle East, but embracing of collaborationist, rat unions while simultaneously untrusting of western trade unions; pro-Israel; pro-corporate-globalisation; pro-free-market; ignorant about the anti-globalisation movement; sneering about the European and World Social Fora -- if they are even aware of them -- and reject completely the idea that there can be systemic change. In short, they aren't lefties at all. They're just a bunch of mushy old liberals in the end - a group that we never used to think of as left-wing at all.

As the late, great Phil Ochs sang:

'I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
And I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I'd lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal'